“Organizing Our Social World”is the title of another chapter in Daniel J. Levitin’s book The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, when I completed my Ph.D. in cognitive psychology one of the leading problems was information overload, and that was in the era before personal computers. Now we have the internet aided and abetted by mobile technology so technology is omnipresent. It is apparent from this chapter that longstanding problems in social psychology and human interaction have been exacerbated by technology. I find it amazing when I see a group of four people dining together each preoccupied with their smartphones. And when I attend professional meetings where the objective is for direct interactions between and among human beings most people appear to be interacting with their smartphones.
The intention for social media is that they are not a replacement for personal contact, but a supplement that provides an easy way to stay connected to people who are too distant or too busy. Levitin hints that there might be an illusion to this, writing “Social networking provides breadth but rarely depth, and in-person contact is what we crave, even if online contact seems to take away some of that craving. ..The cost of all our electronic connectedness appears to be that it limits our biological capacity to connect with other people.”
Lying and misrepresentations become a much larger problem in the online world. A hormone has been identified with trust. It has been called the love hormone in the popular press because it is especially pronounced in sexual interactions. In such mundane experiments as having research participants watching political speeches rate for whom they are likely to vote. The participants are under the influence of oxytocin for half the speeches. Of course they do not know when they are under the influence of the drug. They receive a placebo, inert drug, for the other half of the speeches. When asked for whom they would vote for or trust, the participants selected the candidates they viewed while oxytocin was in their systems. [to the best of my knowledge such techniques have yet to be used in an official election].
Interestingly, levels of oxytocin also increase during gaps in social support or poor social functioning. Recent theory holds tht oxytocin regulates the salience of social information and is capable of eliciting positive or negative social emotions, depending on the situation of the individual. In any case, these data support the importance of direct social contact by identifying biological components underlying this type of interaction.
I was surprised that little, if any, attention was spent on Facebook the premier social media. As I like to periodically rant regarding Facebook, and considerable time has passed since my last rate, I’ll try to fill in this lacuna. I detest Facebook, although I understand that many find I convenient for keeping in touch with many people with little effort. Apparently, businesses also find Facebook to be necessary and find it profitable. I use Facebook for a small number of contacts, but I am overwhelmed with notes of little interest. At the outset I did not want to refuse anyone friending me out of fear that this someone might be somebody I should but don’t remember. Similarly I find it uncomfortable unfriending people, although at times that seems to be a better course of action. Perhaps there is some way of setting controls so that the number of messages are few and few people are offended, but I have no way of knowing what they are.
I find Linkedin much more palatable and even useful. Still one must regard endorsements and statements of expertise with some caution. That is, they are useful provided one looks for corroborating information. I like email and email with Listservs. However, I’ve learned that younger folks have developed some complicated and, in my view, unnecessary protocols for using email, texting, and social media. I’ll quit before I start sounding like even more of a cranky old man.